The last big stop on this road trip adventure was in Oakland, Maryland. On Monday afternoon, I grabbed lunch to eat while traveling along mostly two lane highways from Luray Caverns and through western Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.
Being Columbus Day, a lot of Oakland businesses were closed but I was really there on a reconnaissance mission. You see, we think that some of my family came from this area. I had started working on my genealogy years ago but had to give up the effort when college, career and life got in the way.
Thanks to Ancestry.com this kind of research is much simpler than it was twenty years ago so I’m planning to buy myself a membership for Christmas and unravel some mysteries.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to see the town. And since I’ve seen it, I’m plotting a trip back in the spring when the weather is better. It’s about five hours from here – perfect for a long weekend.
The town is built into a mountain and has a commercial strip lined with all the non-descript fast food and retail you see in small towns. But the downtown is adorable. There’s a gorgeous old courthouse and it seems like even the plainest buildings have some kind of fun twist, even if it’s just artful displays of flowers outside.
I felt an attachment to one particular church for some reason. It was frustrating to photograph because of power lines and disappointing to see a modern door on the front. However, time marches on and modern doors are often a necessity.
I looked it up online and found images of beautiful wooden doors on the front of St. Matthews Episcopal Church. I’ve never done this before, but will pack dress clothes and plan to attend a service here on my return. I circled back to this church a few times before leaving town.
There are several retail shops downtown including a few antique stores. I ventured into one for a couple of fun bargains including a travel themed cardboard hat box destined to be part of my vintage suitcase collection. Their prices were more than reasonable and the owners were thrilled to have an out-of-town visitor.
The town also has three history museums, all of which were closed by the time I arrived. This area is a popular four season destination with a large lake for water sports as well as popular areas for skiing. This was the leg of the journey where I most needed my trusty atlas and where I spent a fair amount of time behind campers and trucks on two lane roads in the mountains.
But that was just part of the fun!
I reluctantly left town and headed toward Clarksburg, West Virginia where I spent the night before heading westward early Tuesday morning. The trip out of Oakland was beautiful as the sun began to set over the lake. The trees, with their changing colors, shown in the brilliant autumn light.
Honestly, I hated to leave.
We still have a few small things to discuss about this trip in the coming days. Come back for more!
On the road is probably my favorite place to be most days. The thing I like best about traveling roads I’ve never been on is encountering a place that simply forces me to pull over and have a look around.
Many times, it’s cute little towns where the residents will tell you there’s nothing to do and where they see nothing special while you’re enchanted by the narrow streets, hanging flowers and odd mix of architectural features.
The trip to Luray Caverns took longer than planned because I found Front Royal, Virginia. It was about 8:30 a.m. on Columbus Day when I rolled up to a traffic light and looked to my left. It was clear that I would always regret not going around the block.
Front Royal is now officially on my list of places to visit again some day. The street I explored that day was home to the courthouse, a train depot turned visitors’ center, and park as well as a variety of storefronts, an ornate old bank and cute little theater. All but deserted because of my poor timing, this town captured my imagination.
I read that they host events in the gazebo in that park and I have fantasies of working in this town and reading a book while enjoying lunch in the park.
It reminded me of a model railroad town. You know the kind? A string of perfect little buildings on tree lined streets. The courthouse lawn had so many trees that you can hardly see the building from the street. Coming from a community where the courthouse lawn was long ago replaced by concrete and retired weapons of war, this is a delightful sight.
I also saw some gorgeous old churches in addition to the usual string of fast food joints and those stores that seem to turn up in every town – Dollar General, Family Dollar and Tractor Supply are here but there were several local places that looked interesting. The proximity to Skyline Caverns and Shenandoah National Park would make this a fun long weekend getaway.
We’re coming up on the end of this road trip, friends. I have a few more things to tell you but we’ll be wrapping it up this week. Here’s hoping you have enjoyed reading about the journey enough to check back tomorrow for another story!
Before traveling, I always ask friends for recommendations. A few know exactly the kind of places I like and my pal Mike offered up a great recommendation. He suggested Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia. He’s a man of few words so he just told me to go and didn’t mention why but I trust his judgement so I went.
It was a great suggestion but don’t tell him I said so (I hate for him to get a big head).
Luray is in the Shenandoah Valley, about an hour south of Winchester. The route there cuts through beautiful countryside and small towns with gorgeous views at every turn.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure about going underground on such a beautiful fall day and wasn’t convinced it would be worth the investment. At $28 per adult (discounts for kids and seniors), it’s not the cheapest tour ticket you’ll ever buy but admission also gets you into an automobile museum. Turns out, it was worth the time and money.
The cavern was discovered by three brothers in 1878 and they opened it as a tourist attraction almost immediately after they found and mapped it. It’s been in the same family ever since so they’ve had plenty of time to develop and improve this site. Today, they’ve developed a 1.25 mile underground trail that highlights most of the approximate 80 acre cavern.
The trail takes you through some breathtaking areas and your guide will keep you entertained while teaching you a little about the rocks and history. I’m not all that interested in geology and retained little of what he said but I still enjoyed that part of the tour.
It’s 54 degrees year round but humidity makes it feel like 65. There are a few steep places but the walk is mostly easy.
My favorite place here is called Dream Lake, a spring of water that looks like a mirror. Stalactites (the ones on top) reflect in the water making them look like stalagmites. At it’s deepest point the lake is only twenty inches deep but the illusion is so convincing you can’t tell. The picture above is of Dream Lake. Lovely, isn’t it?
I also liked the Stalacpipe Organ which produces music, using rubber mallets to tap stalactites. The sound is subtle but moving. It’s been there since the late fifties and provides a peak into a different aspect of this cave, beyond just looking at the rocks.
If you enjoy cloud watching, you’ll love looking for shapes in the rock formations here. There’s a lot to see and it looks different from every perspective.
They market this tour for families but I probably wouldn’t take really young kids. There were youngsters on my tour but parents and grandparents struggled to keep the littlest ones focused and quiet. The kids weren’t happy, the caregivers were distracted and the rest of us struggled to hear at times.
However, if you do take little ones, there’s a fudge shop as well as a toy museum you can tour for an extra price.
Some might call this place a tourist trap and I probably wouldn’t argue. They have lots of ways to spend your money beyond the cavern tour. The difference between this place and most tourist traps is that the cavern really is spectacular and they don’t push the other stuff off on you.
Luray Caverns was much different than anything else I saw on this road trip and I think that’s important. Variety is the spice of life so it seems like a good idea to go looking for things to do that you wouldn’t ordinarily choose. You never know when a new interest or hobby will be born!
Want to visit Luray Caverns? Visit their website for information for details!
If you go, be sure to take a pocketful of change. They have a wishing well, pictured above, near the end of the tour where you can toss in your change to benefit local charities. You can bet I threw in a fistful of coin and made a big old wish!
My 67 year old mother had never been on a carousel until yesterday. Remember when I visited Mansfield’s Richland Carousel Park this summer?
It’s built to look old and is inside a building so it can operate year round. It’s gorgeous and, at just a buck a ticket, it’s a great bargain.
Plus, kids of all ages (even the big ones like us) race to get their favorite animal. And there is a beautiful selection of animals including traditional carousel horses as well as cats, rabbits, a giraffe, bears and even a ram.
So we took a little road trip up to Mansfield yesterday. I drove them by the old reformatory where the movie Shawshank Redemption was filmed. They declined a tour but we could see from outside that they’re ready for Halloween. If you haven’t been, you really should go for a tour.
Then it was back downtown for a ride on the carousel and lunch at the Coney Island Diner just down the street.
My dad didn’t want to take a ride but we had a fun time while he held my purse and snapped a few pictures.
She chose a horse that went up and down while I chose the tiger. She had a blast and was glad for the experience. She came from a big family where money was tight for a minister, his wife and ten kids. While their needs were seen to, extras like carousel rides would have been an extravagance.
Who knew that a dollar carousel ride could fulfill a lifelong dream?
Is there something others take for granted that you’ve never gotten to do? It’s never too late! Tell me about it in the comments. Maybe we can brainstorm a way to make it happen!
PS: tomorrow we resume the road trip!
I interrupt this road trip to share a public service announcement. When you road trip, there is one thing you should always carry with you
I know, I know. It’s the 21st century. You use the app on your phone to get you around. It may not always give directions that make sense but your phone always gets you there.
That’s super but let me tell you something, friends. There are still places in this country where your phone will not work.
I live in a rural area where my phone works about 95 percent of the time. There are pockets though where a call drops, the music dries up and you can’t get a text through.
On this last road trip, I went for miles and miles without service in parts of West Virginia and Maryland. You see, I had stopped to take a picture somewhere and accidentally closed the maps app. When I opened it again, there was no signal and therefore no directions.
I knew I needed to continue on this road for a while so I soldiered on thinking that I would soon regain service. And then I started looking for a McDonalds or some kind of business that would offer free WiFi. But you don’t see a lot of free WiFi in sparsely populated mountainous areas where even the radio signal has stopped working.
Luckily, I had my trusty atlas and the ability to read and direct myself.
Let me tell you something kids – I would’ve been in trouble without it!
Technology is great but we need to be prepared to think for ourselves and to direct ourselves when necessary. If you’re going to be a serious road tripper, always keep that atlas handy. You never know when you might need it!
The decision to visit the Flying Circus at Bealeton, Va. during this road trip adventure came with another decision. How to spend Sunday morning prior to the air show?
A quick glance at the map easily answered this question. The Manassas National Battlefield Park was just a little bit out of the way en route from Winchester to the airfield at Bealeton. The park is open dusk to dawn and the visitors’ center opens at 8:30 a.m., timed perfectly for a walk around the battlefield before heading south to see all the cool planes.
If you’re a Yankee like me, you likely remember this battle from history class as the Battle of Bull Run. And technically, two battles were fought here – the first in July 1861 and the second the following year in August. The 1861 battle was the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory.
Today, the park encompasses over 5,000 acres just outside of town. There are bridal trails, hiking trails, ranger led programs, a walking tour and driving tour. The visitors’ center has an orientation film, bookstore and rangers who can help you use your time here wisely.
On the battlefield, you’ll see a home – destroyed by the battle and reconstructed to help tell the story. A small family cemetery holds the remains of the elderly woman who was bedridden inside that house. By the end of that first battle, she was dead, her home destroyed and her farmland ravaged by war.
Cannons dot the landscape along with small markers that honor the fallen and interpretive signage that outlines what went on here. A statue of Stonewall Jackson surveys the battlefield from atop his horse.
I walked the battlefield, admired the farmhouse and stood inside the footprint of the tiny home of James Robinson, a free African American man who lived here with his family. The home escaped major damage although Mr. Robinson suffered significant financial losses because of the battles fought here. He claimed more than $2,600 in property either destroyed or taken by Union soldiers. He received less than half his claim. All that’s left of the home today are the foundation stones.
This place is mostly peaceful, making it hard to believe these gently rolling hills were once soaked with blood. Both sides suffered significant casualties here – hundreds died in the first battle alone.
From the area around the farmhouse and cemetery, you can look out over a valley, now cut through by a highway. Sounds of traffic waft up the hill and an occasional siren in the distance reminds you that time marches on and that life continues to move forward even as the past hangs heavy over this land.
I also stood in the shadow of Stonewall Jackson, contemplating the role of Confederate monuments in this country. I had toured his Winchester headquarters just the day before during a visit to Old Town.
As I walked the empty battlefield, my mind’s eye was incapable of picturing the horrors that went on here and I am grateful that I couldn’t imagine it.
This is the kind of place where you can spend as much or as little time as you like. I was perfectly happy to just walk around a bit and study the visitors’ center materials. There were other places to go that day and I lacked the mental energy to delve deeper into the tragedy this land has seen.
I’m glad that I went but was even happier to have something more carefree to enjoy later in the day. You can read all about that fun afternoon here.
Tomorrow we’ll continue our journey down the road and I promise it will be a happier story.